Put it in Writing

Life written up

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Small Stone Blogsplash

This is a repeat posting as today is the official blogsplash day

Kaspa & Fiona have taken over my blog for today, because they need our help. You may remember that I took part in their  ‘A River Of Stones’ (AROS) project back in January.

They are both on a mission to help the world connect through writing. They are also getting married on Saturday the 18th of June.

For their fantasy wedding present, they are asking people across the world to write them a ‘small stone’ and post it on their blogs or on Facebook or Twitter. Here’s a few words from them:

A small stone is a short piece of observational writing – simply pay attention to something properly and then write it down. Find out more about small stones here.

If you’re willing to help, we’d love you to do things:

1) Re-post this blog on your own blog any time before June the 18th and give your readers a chance to hear about what we’re doing. You can simply copy and paste the text, or you can find the html here.

2) Write us a small stone on our wedding day whilst we’re saying our vows and eating cake, post it on your blog, and send it to us.

You can find out more about our project at our website, Wedding Small Stones, and you can also read our blog at A River of Stones.

We also have a July challenge coming soon, when we’ll be challenging you to notice one thing every day during July and write it down.

Thank you for listening, and we hope we’ll be returning from our honeymoon to an inbox crammed with small stones, including yours.

Kaspa & Fiona

Even if you don’t have your own blog you could still write a stone and post it to them at the link above, or on facebook or twitter.


Want to write a novel – Just Do It (3). Hatch that plot.

mindmap [RE]Design

Image by Denkbeeldhouwer via Flickr

So here’s part 3 in my series of posts for beginner writers…


Right, where were we? We’d got started on the novel –
overcome the self-doubt and procrastination. We’d fallen in love with our
characters and breathed life into them.

So what now? What are you going to have these characters do?
What is going to happen to them? How will you introduce them to your readers? What
will their journey be?

First of all – the thing about plotting is that there is no
one correct way to do it. It’s like cooking – everyone has their own take on
methods – even where the ingredients and the outcome are similar. My mother and
my mother-in-law were both superb bakers – meringues to die for – but they used
two quite different procedures to create them. One baked them in an oven – the
French way – and the other plopped the beaten egg whites into boiling water –
the Italian way. And that’s how it is with plotting – you do what works for
you. Below are just three of the ways – you might only ever use one of them, or
you may change method depending on the novel, or you may mix and match – or you
may do none of them in any conscious way and simply write, improvising as you
go. But if cooking without a recipe scares you, you may find what follows

First up – you might like a linear layout when planning – one
scene heading, followed by the next, and the next and so on. This will work
well if you already have a clear idea of how your story is to develop. You
might follow the heading with notes on the action within the scene. It will all
run down the page – in portrait layout – beginning, middle and end all sorted.

Or you may do the above – but with only a definite start and
end point already planned – and fill in the scenes in between as you think it
all through.

However, it may be that you don’t have scenes as such. It
could be that you have fragments – an assortment of images – of experiences and
occurrences for your characters. Perhaps then you can storyboard. That is write
and/or draw out these images on cards. Then lay them out, swap them round, see
where the gaps are, do cards to fill the gaps. As you ponder the gaps you will
probably find you begin to ask yourself, and answer, all the why questions
about your plot, about what is driving it. You must be able to answer the
question as to why a particular scene is there.
If you can’t, then discard it. It’s superfluous. You’ll also start to
resolve the ‘how’ questions as you move from card to card. Perhaps new
characters and ideas will emerge as you work. Perhaps a timeline or natural
order may start to emerge.  You may well
see a sort of clustering, or coming together,  of scenes at certain points – these will
provide your ‘jumpcuts’ and chapter breaks – and you may well discard some
in-between scenes altogether.

And then there’s a third way. That is the mind-map, spider
diagram or cluster plotting method. Here think landscape rather than portrait.
Take a sheet of A4, or even, A3 paper and write your novel’s working title in
the middle and draw a box or cloud shape around what you’ve written. Now do
several short lines coming off this central box or blob. At the end of these
lines write, or indeed, draw the key scenes, images or events you already have
in your head. Draw a box around each of these. Then see if you can extend any
of these scene/event boxes with blobs of their own. You can continue branching
off as much as you like. It should become obvious which are the meatier scenes,
which ones are sparking off possible subplots. The more substantial plot blobs
or boxes will be the ones you’ll probably allocate most words to. You may well
also see how the scenes should link up and perhaps begin to see an order of
events. And as with the other methods you will probably find scenes that are so
insubstantial they can be dropped altogether.

Whatever plotting method you use you will need to peg your
scenes to a story arc. Your plot must serve as a roadmap for the characters’
actions. It must bring your characters together at just the right moment. You
need to decide on your opening scene, on where your telling will begin. The
plot will almost certainly begin long before your story does. You will weave in
any relevant pre-details as you tell the story. Your start point should be
where the characters’ backstories become nowstories. So looking at your plan –
linear, storyboard or mind-map, you will need to move those scenes around –
number them, arrow them, or change their order in the pile.

It doesn’t matter if you open your story at the end and tell
it as flashback or if you begin at the middle and flashback and move forward –
or if you simply drive forward. However there is a classic set of ingredients
that the story arc should probably contain and that is:

1.Stasis – once upon a time

2.Trigger – the unpredictable event

3.Quest – the protagonist(s) begins to seek

4.Surprise – discovers the unexpected

5.Critical choice – difficult decision

6.Climax – the consequence of 5

7.Reversal – change of status

8.Resolution – acceptance of new state.

But the most important thing of all about the plotting stage
is to just go for it. Don’t pause or censor or edit – that will come when you
have all your scenes before you. Enjoy this very creative phase of pre-writing
– rule nothing in or out.

Have Fun!

N.B. There is an excellent post and youtube video on cluster
plotting at http://johannaharness.com/2010/10/21/clusterplotting.
If you’re a writer who uses twitter, you will almost certainly have heard of
Johanna. She is the person behind the #amwriting hashtag and won last year’s
inaugural Chris Al-Aswad prize awarded by Eight Cuts.

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Writing Room

I’m very fortunate to have room to myself in which to write. It’s the sitting room at the back of the house, and my desk sits in a corner.  Beside the desk is a small cupboard where I keep all the folders of writing related paraphernalia – cuttings, ideas, notebooks etc. Above the desk is a large pinboard covered in inspirational photos, cards and quotations. I got a new computer recently - with Windows 7 and all that. I particularly appreciate the wide screen monitor, having always worked on a laptop before. I can now have two documents open side-by-side on the screen – which makes editing much easier.

My writing room has a small conservatory attached to it and so, when I need to get up and walk about, I can go through to the conservatory and look out over the croft and the loch beyond. If I look north I can see the Outer Hebrides and looking south there are the summits of the Cuillin mountain range – certainly an inspirational view.

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The new novel – point of view dilemma and switching off the inner editor

I am currently writing my second novel. For most of last year I was working on the redrafting and editing of my first novel and that process is quite different from creating something new. I’ve found it quite hard to change back to the, necessarily, very raw state of the writing when a novel is in the creation phase. It’s hard to stop editing and to just keep ploughing on to get the thing from brain to page. The thing is to tell the story and not to agonise and ponder over each word, phrase and nuance – that comes later.

Of course there was a whole lot of preliminary work before I even began writing this second book. I had a fair bit of research to do – more so than for ‘Change of Life’. Then there were the character biographies and the plot and chapter outlines to do. But now it’s underway.

I’m 16000 words in and already there’s been a couple of surprises.  First, a minor character has stepped into the spotlight demanding to tell her version of events. And then I had to make the hard decision, at around 12000 words, to switch the whole thing from third person narration to first person. Exactly the same thing happened with the first novel. I really wanted to have a go at third person narration this time around - but it seemed flat and lifeless. Changing to first person made it come alive. Maybe I’m just a ‘first person’ kind of girl.


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